|Jermaine Jones (13) and the US couldn’t get past Omar Cummings and Jamaica Friday.|
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There are several safety nets awaiting the United States should it fail to defeat Jamaica in a World Cup qualifier at Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, Tuesday. But this could be considered a must-win game for the US team, which has not lost consecutive qualifying games since 2001.
History was on the side of the United States when it was seeded into Group A along with the Jamaicans, Antigua & Barbuda, and Guatemala.
The US squad has not lost to Guatemala in 11 qualifiers (7-0-4) and had not been defeated by Jamaica in 18 matches before a 2-1 loss Friday in Kingston, Jamaica.
The United States got off to a good start with a 3-1 victory over Antigua & Barbuda in the teams’ first-ever meeting last month. Now, though, Jamaica leads the group with 7 points and the United States and Guatemala are tied for second with 4 points, halfway through the semifinal round.
There are huge margins for error built in to the CONCACAF qualifying round. The top teams receive byes through the first two rounds. Then, the top two teams from each of three groups go on to Round 4.
Of the six teams in the final round-robin competition, three automatically will qualify for Brazil 2014, and the fourth-place team goes to a playoff.
The United States actually lost three successive matches in pre-2002 World Cup competition — but that was after a 4-0-1 start which, as it turned out, put the team within one victory of advancing to the Japan/South Korea finals. That win came by a 2-1 score on two Joe-Max Moore goals against Jamaica in the final soccer match at Foxboro Stadium on Oct. 7, 2001.
But the United States these days does not seem to have the same swagger as during other World Cup qualifying competitions. The team has entered a transition period under coach Jurgen Klinsmann, and with new leadership emerging in Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones. Injuries and unsettled club situations are also affecting the team.
Both Bradley and Landon Donovan missed the visit to Jamaica because of injuries, and the US midfield suffered. Bradley (hamstring) and central defender Clarence Goodson (suspended) will be out of Tuesday’s match. Maurice Edu could be the best alternative to Bradley, but Klinsmann seems to prefer Edu paired with Geoff Cameron in central defense — they were an effective combination in a 2-0 win over Mexico last month.
Carlos Bocanegra, left out of action because of a lack of playing time after his transfer from Rangers to Racing Santander, could return to central defense alongside Cameron. It would be more than coincidental if former Revolution star Michael Parkhurst pairs with Cameron in central defense, since both developed with the Bayside United Club in Rhode Island. Parkhurst played out of position at right back Friday in place of Steve Cherundolo.
Past US teams seldom had to deal with high level player/club maintenance issues. Now, though, US national teamers are in position to earn high salaries overseas and some are hoping to join teams involved in the Champions League. This changes priorities and also creates a greater gap between the more ambitious competitors and the domestic players.
Dempsey, who made his international debut the last time the United States and Jamaica met in Columbus in 2004, sat out for three weeks while awaiting a move from Fulham to Tottenham Hotspur. Dempsey did not miss a beat as he scored in the first minute in Kingston last week. But such a scenario involving a US star in a holdout situation awaiting a transfer to a major European club never used to happen.
Dempsey left the Revolution after the 2006 season and has been attempting to earn a spot with a Champions League contender. Dempsey’s accomplishments have been impressive — he totaled 21 goals in all competitions and was among the leading scorers in the Premier League last season.
But Dempsey’s progress also raises questions about why the United States has not produced other attacking players with similar creativity, drive, and finishing ability.
Not hosts with most
The days of Foxborough as a go-to venue for the United States have been over for a while. The US team compiled a 16-2-5 record at both stadia from 1991 through last year, including a 5-0-1 mark in World Cup qualifiers.
Gillette Stadium has not hosted a qualifier since installing artificial turf in ’06.
Last year, grass was imported for the US-Spain exhibition, which attracted 64,121, the US team performing poorly in a 4-0 defeat. This year, the stadium’s feature match was set to be Cruzeiro-Milan, a crowd projected near 50,000. But Cruzeiro pulled out after signing a contract to appear, and organizers did not even bother putting down grass for the game as Milan defeated Olimpia of Honduras, 3-1, in the first game of a doubleheader before 17,592. Continued...